Re-enactment honors black Civil War troops

Donald West, of Charleston, S.C., a re-enactor with the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, reads a marker about the Civil War Battle of Sol Legare Island in James Island, S.C.

JAMES ISLAND, S.C. --- Black re-enactors from as far away as Florida and Washington, D.C., gathered Friday to commemorate the 54th Massachusetts' heroic charge on Confederate Battery Wagner and an earlier Civil War skirmish that gave the famed regiment an early taste of battle.

 

About a dozen re-enactors portraying the 54th gathered on the site of the Battle of Sol Legare Island on the anniversary of the 1863 battle, a skirmish two days before the futile Battery Wagner attack commemorated in the movie Glory .

In the initial skirmish, on July 16, 1863, the 54th, a black regiment trained in Massachusetts, lost 14 men with 17 wounded and 12 missing. A marker was placed on Sol Legare Road to mark the skirmish four years ago.

Two days after the skirmish, the 54th, one of the first official black units in the Union army, was one of several Union regiments that attacked Battery Wagner on nearby Morris Island, considered a key to taking Charleston from the Confederates.

During the evening attack, the Union troops attacked along a narrow strip of beach. Historians say that of a federal force of 6,000, there were 1,600 casualties.

Joseph McGill, the commander of Company I of the 54th re-enactors, said the upcoming Civil War sesquicentennial will allow the story of black soldiers to be heard.

"We consider this a rehearsal for the 150th anniversary of the battle. We're going to make sure this story is told," he said.

"It's hallowed ground. It's an honor to do it and go out there," said Louis Carter, a re-enactor from Washington, D.C.

Battery Wagner is long gone now, a casualty of the waves of an encroaching sea. But much of Morris Island, once numbered among the nation's most endangered Civil War battlegrounds, remains.

In the early part of the decade, there were proposals to put as many as 20 homes on the island sitting on the edge of Charleston Harbor.

Two years ago, the city of Charleston, working with the Trust for Public Land, bought the island. The groups are working on a plan to set up exhibits and other items to help explain the history of the 800-acre island to the public.